Tajikistan: Inclusive Education Project (3rd Phase) in Hissar City begins

In Tajikistan, the conventional view that “children with disabilities should receive their education at specially established boarding schools” is deeply rooted.  Coupled with existing discrimination and prejudice against disabilities, many children with disabilities have no choice but to stay home, deprived of opportunities to go to even a school for special needs.

In response, since 2014, AAR Japan’s Tajikistan Office has been pursuing the inclusive education project (Note) which aims to improve the learning environment for children with disabilities by establishing schools that meet the various needs of children, including those with disabilities. For the first three years, the project was conducted in the capital city of Dushanbe. Since 2017 it has been implemented in the city of Hissar, 25 kilometres west of the capital, where it is said that there is a higher concentration of children with disabilities than in surrounding areas. 

Note:  Inclusive education is education accessible to all children regardless of disabilities (with or without), race and language, carried out through appropriate classrooms, learning facilities and educational frameworks.

School teachers participating in a group activity at the teacher training seminar.

The project in Hissar in the third year (started in August, 2019) undertakes four different activities at three designated key schools: (1) construction of barrier-free environments, (2) human resource development, (3) dissemination of knowledge and deepening understanding of inclusive education among people, and (4) strengthening of networks among parents and custodians of children with disabilities. 
Among these activities, this report outlines two kinds of activities:

Construction of Barrier-Free Environments

Steps of buildings are a severe barrier for the children, especially for those who use wheelchairs or crutches, and constitute a major factor to hinder them from going to school.  Thus, the construction works were started in September, 2019 in order to create a barrier-free environment.
Renovation of a classroom was completed ahead of schedule, thanks to the hardworking construction firm, which hoped for children can learn at the classroom as early as possible. (September 5th, 2019) 
Wheelchair ramps, handrails and barrier-free restrooms are being installed under this activity.  Also constructed was the “learning support room,” completed in November.  The room is a place where teachers and social workers who have received training on inclusive education and on learning instruction for children with disabilities, support children’s learning in accordance with individual needs and requirements of each child.  Next to the learning support room, a space was also set up to place running and cycling machines for use by children who need to strengthen physical functions or to undergo rehabilitation.

The learning support room's equipment includes balance balls, a trampoline, . (November 12th, 2019)
Once the learning support room was completed, children with disabilities, who had not come to school or those who had given up schooling because of their disabilities, as well as their family members, came to school one after another.  On the opening day of the room, many children from the regular class also came to the room to play.  We aim to create a learning environment where pupils and students of different abilities are able to learn better.
The completed learning support room.  Under the bright light from the window, the class started with new desks, new chairs and a new blackboard.  On the first day, the teacher presented the new room, to which the custodians of children and others listened with utmost attentions. (November 12th, 2019)


Strengthening Human Resources for Inclusive Education

The second category of activities is related to teacher training.  Physical environments such as renovated classrooms and wheelchair ramps does not mean quality education to those with disabilities.  It is indispensable to foster teachers who can appropriately teach children in accordance with the different conditions and characteristics of each child.  In August, 2019, we organised a three-day training course in each of the three key schools.

Teachers of key schools as well as other neighbouring schools were invited, and a total of 96 teachers participated in the training courses.  The training program covered a wide range of issues, from the introduction of “what is inclusive education” and “concept of equity,” to the characteristics of disabilities like autism or Down’s syndrome, and effective teaching methods for children with disabilities.
Some custodians are doubtful about the value of study by children with disabilities and of sending them to school.  Participants of the training jointly thought about the issue through role plays, some playing the role of parents and others the role of teachers or schoolmaster.  (August 27th, 2019)
The participants, many of whom were previously not educated about “inclusive education”, learnt a lot through the series of lectures which included many photographs and images, as well as role plays and group works.
Participants in the training glad to receive a certificate upon completion of the program.  The person at the centre is the reporter of this article. 

All the participating teachers and staff.

Teachers even started sharing their own experiences, like “In effect, one of my relatives is a child with disabilities,” or “In my own class there are children with disabilities.”

Seminar on Inclusive Education for Medical Professionals

We organised seminars for medical professionals, such as doctors and nurses, in September and October, 2019.    In Tajikistan, enrolment of children with disabilities in school requires a medical certificate to be issued by a medical institution. Therefore medical personnel’s support is indispensable for these children’s school enrolment.  Appropriate diagnoses and smooth issuance of the certificate facilitate early enrolment of children in school.

The reporter of this article greets the participants at the opening. (September 30th, 2019)
In addition, some parents may be anxious about sending their children to school.  Medical staff is expected to provide appropriate advice to them to send their children to school, which will contribute to an increased number of children’s learning opportunities.
Medical personnel carefully listening to the presenter’s lecture.  (September 30th, 2019)

The seminar emphasised that disabilities are, as opposed to the conventional thought that “retribution for sins committed to the person’s previous existence,” not a fault of the person at all, and that every child, regardless of with or without disabilities, has a right to receive education.  At the seminar some cases were also presented, in which children with disabilities developed their learning capacities and life skills, through previous activities of the project.  Although it will take a long time for the concerted efforts of schools and medical institutions to promote enrolment for children with disabilities, this seminar constituted an important first step.
Observation visit by medical personnel, with a staff member of AAR Japan explaining activities at the school.  (September 30th, 2019)    

Set up Schools where Everyone Can Learn Better

This program, in its third yar in Hissar city now, seeks to disseminate the concept of inclusive education throughout the area, and to establish schools where everyone can learn better.  We are determined to urge the activities forward further, in collaboration with key schools, local people and administrative institutions. 

Out of the four activities for inclusive education, this article covered two of them, and in the future we would like to outline the remaining two activities;  the dissemination activities, and the strengthening of networks among parents and custodians of children with disabilities. 
At the signing ceremony in the launching of the program, H.E. Mr. Hajime Kitamura, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan in Tajikistan (right, as of the date of the photo) and Rie YAMANE of AAR Japan’s Tajikistan Office (left) shake hands.  The determination for furthering the inclusive education was renewed by the ceremony participants, including the headmasters of key schools in Hissar city, the superintendent of schools in Hissar, officials of Tajikistan Ministry of Education.
Group photograph of headmasters of key schools, superintendent of schools in Hissar, officials of Tajikistan Ministry of Education, and Ambassador of Japan to Tajikistan.
(as of the date of the report)
Yoshie OSAWA, AAR Japan Tajikistan Office
OSAWA studied Japanese history at university, and also studied in China.  At graduate schools in Japan and Thailand, she conducted research on education of Myanmar minorities at Thai refugee camps, before teaching social studies and English as a teacher of Japanese school in Hongkong.  She became AAR Japan’s staff member at its Tajikistan Office in July, 2019.  OSAWA is from Tokyo Prefecture.

Japanese-English translation by Mr. Yukio Kiuchi
English editing by Ms. Alice Chee
This article has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Japan's Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.